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To solve one of the great mathematical problems of his day, Alan Turing proposed an imaginary programmable calculating machine. But the idea of actually producing a "Turing machine" did not crystallize until he and his brilliant Bletchley Park colleagues built devices to crack the Nazis' Enigma code, thus ensuring the Allies' victory in World War II. In so doing, Turing beTo solve one of the great mathematical problems of his day, Alan Turing proposed an imaginary programmable calculating machine. But the idea of actually producing a "Turing machine" did not crystallize until he and his brilliant Bletchley Park colleagues built devices to crack the Nazis' Enigma code, thus ensuring the Allies' victory in World War II. In so doing, Turing became a champion of artificial intelligence, formulating the famous (and still unbeaten) Turing Test that challenges our ideas of human consciousness. But Turing's postwar computer-building was cut short when, as an openly gay man in a time when homosexuality was officially illegal in England, he was apprehended by the authorities and sentenced to a "treatment" that amounted to chemical castration, leading to his suicide.With a novelist's sensitivity, David Leavitt portrays Turing in all his humanity-his eccentricities, his brilliance, his fatal candor-while elegantly explaining his work and its implications. About The Author: About the Author David Leavitt's first collection of stories, "Family Dancing," was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award & the PEN/Faulkner Prize. "The Lost Language of Cranes" was made into a BBC film, & "While England Sleeps" was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. Leavitt is also the author of "Equal Affections," "A Place I've Never Been," "Arkansas," & "The Page Turner." With Mark Mitchell, he coedited "The Penguin Book of Short Stories" & "The Pages Passed from Hand to Hand" & cowrote "Italian Pleasures." He is recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation & the National Endowment for the Arts. He divides his time between Italy and Florida....

Title : The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer
Author :
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ISBN : 9780753822005
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 280 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer Reviews

  • Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
    2019-01-30 13:36

    Alan is five years old and taking a bite out of an apple for the first time. Human life is rich with such firsts, as we well know and make known with our various rituals and markings, preservations and engravings. First tooth. First step. First word. First day of school. First kiss. But many firsts go uncelebrated, unmarked, fail to be photographed or scrapbooked, and countless sums pass by human sensors unknown, even to those who personally bear them. No one—neither parents nor Alan or otherwise—could’ve realized the somber significance of this as he happily tore the meat of the commonly blossomed fruit away from its seed-laden axis, his jaw working the tart mouthful into a swallowable sweetness and repeated in between the beaming smiles and clear dancing eyes of satisfaction. The verdant freshness of childhood innocence harmoniously converges with the surrounding organic hustle and bustle of firsts smattering the flora and fauna. The bite’s unknowable meaning radiates silently amid the pastoral scene of the Turing family picnic. The not all too frequently unclouded light of the Scottish sun warmly contributes to the gorgeous weather and blankets the feelings of time-halting serenity and familial love that mingle and gently swirl about this moment, in this clime, in this fraction of a fraction of the world. Palpable glimmers of Alan’s remarkable intelligence perched upon the early signposts. His mind grasped the landscape of the idyllic family picnic as not merely a series of pleasant impressions bleeding into one another and lapping at his mind-as-center-of-it-all, but as composed of distinct pathways and trajectories, not exactly upon an actual visualized grid—as might some cartoonish version of a mathematics genius as a child—but as things that adhere to deeper principles of space and movement. Urged by an offhand remark about how nice it would be to have some honey with their biscuits, he traced the flight patterns of the nearby bees and intuitively calculated them into a hunch that, if followed, could bring their sweet secretions into the already plentiful spread that his family’d been enjoying. Within minutes he’d scampered to the central hub of the hive, exhilarated not as much by the possibility of snatching up a syrupy comb or two, but by the series of gratifying clicks within the mind of being able to anticipate and accurately predict the workings of the world—a complex feeling of exerting power and mastery, tempered by the simultaneously humbling sense that his own workings as a person could likewise be anticipated, predicted and uncovered, and as such fall into place with their own satisfying clicks. He both looked out upon the world and felt himself to be its kin, all of course in ways that a child, and most people beyond childhood, could not articulate. Alan had a conductor car toy that he rolled around so regularly that, within a year since the Christmas he’d received it, the model vessel and even the miniature conductor himself had worn away significantly—human hands and entropy. When a wheel had fallen off, his impulse was to dig a shallow grave for the toy in the backyard. His parents discovered this and thought that he’d tried to hide the evidence of misusing their gift, but in fact his unusual manner of thinking had given him the idea that a proper burial would allow for some sort of magical rejuvenation of the object, causing it to rise from the soil, Phoenixlike, reborn anew. In general, children are prone to magical thinking, yes, but his particular form of it was unique—a vision of causality quite fenced off from others—a self-contained logic churning within the young boy’s mind that was perhaps a sign of revolutionary leaps to come.

  • Lil
    2019-01-28 19:17

    A fascinating perspective into the life of an eccentric genius. I probably should not have looked at other reviews first, because it's disheartening to see so many of them complaining "too gay." What I found so striking about this book was that Leavitt evidences how Turing's identity as a gay man was an essential part of his life, not just in the act of sexuality but in his thinking. There's the view of the outsider, the partition of "other" that coloured so much of his thinking about machines, there's the idea of "imitating a man" and trying to fool others that Turing proposed as a test of a computer's intelligence... the book is full of these foundational ideas that can't be separated from Turing's thought process, no matter how much a privileged heteronormative culture wants them to whitewash them out. Turing is an especially good candidate to show the importance of identity on thought in that he was never just a pure mathematician. In his lectures, debates, letters, even the short story he was writing before he died, he is constantly making reference to it; these passing remarks could be just ignored, leaving Turing probably looking like someone who just went off on tangents, but Leavitt does an amazing job in teasing them out and putting them into context. And in that context, it's obvious that the question of who he was, of what machines were, of what made computers and human brains different and the same, was a question that was constantly on Turing's mind.

  • Megan
    2019-02-05 11:26

    Halfway done and totally disappointed in this book. It skips between being an overblown gay biography of Alan Turing (being gay does define one's existence, but does it have to define EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE, too?) and a hopelessly confusing history of how math become computer science. I'm still slogging through, but my hopes are dashed.

  • Antonomasia
    2019-02-21 18:15

    Interesting and usually very readable biog of Turing which concentrates on his identity as a gay man and how this may have influenced aspects of his work. During his time at Cambridge, homosexuality was tacitly accepted and there was a significant, though of course rather underground, community of gay academics - including E.M. Forster - and students. This would of course contrast with the secrecy and shame he was subjected to later. Naturally there are some pages of equations and mathematical description. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to switch gears into being able to understand them all in the way I could with similar books when I was younger, but the presentation is quite clear and they shouldn't trouble most bright all-rounders.Bletchley is covered in quite an exciting manner (still kind of suspenseful even though we know how it turned out), and the account includes the contributions of a good number of other people as well as Turing. I enjoyed reading more about them online as well. The American author could improve his grasp of London geography, however.Not that much space is given to the story of Turing's arrest and demise, but it was still very moving and left me quite angry and sad. Years ago, I had a copy of a much longer biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma. I never got close to finishing it. 700+ pages was probably a bit much for me on this topic, and I was lucky enough to chance upon this book when I was away at Christmas. I would recommend it as an alternative to the other biography for people who aren't CS specialists, especially those with any interest in LGBT issues. (It is a shame to see a number of first-page GR reviews hostile to the gay slant of the book.) I gather from reviews here and elsewhere that the maths is all sound, so those with more technical knowledge should find it satisfactory too.

  • Yfke
    2019-02-15 14:11

    Though containing a lot of information, this book is a dry mess, making it difficult to read and slightly frustrating to anyone who isn't particularly gifted at mathematics to begin with. What bothered me most though, is the trouble Leavitt seems to have separating the scientist from his sexuality. The way he connects the two throughout the book is irritating and often far fetched. I think anyone interested in learning more about Alan Turing should take Leavitt's own advice and go for Andrew Hodges' The Enigma, and I haven't even read that yet.

  • Mark
    2019-02-06 18:19

    I expected more of a biography. Instead, it's an awkward combination of sketchy biography and layman's explanation of Turing's technical contributions. It's not bad, just not very good.

  • ^
    2019-02-17 17:15

    I lost interest and gave up on page 26. So early! Feeble really; but I've just not been able to get back into it, despite trying.The author's narrative reads too much like a first draft, a rough, barely-ordered laying out of sources without the subsequent necessary review, re-review, and knitting-together into a text that engages its reader as it flows. Was the sub-editor asleep at the time?I am disappointed. After several deeply engrossing visits to the Bletchley Park site, and The National Museum Of Computing, I'd really looked forward to reading this book; especially as I borrowed it from Hampshire (public) Library Services, whose staff are normally superb at selecting books.

  • Surreysmum
    2019-02-07 12:10

    I found this a fascinating book, even though the mathematical concepts in the middle chapters were a bit of a hard slog. Still, even if I didn't fully follow the explanations, it was entirely helpful to get a sense of the territories in which Turing's mind was working. And the bit about the Enigma machines was utterly absorbing.I raised an eyebrow when I saw David Leavitt as the author of the book, wondering whether an author mostly known (or at least mostly known to me) as a writer of gay-centred novels would tip the balance of the whole thing, making it a "poor abused gay hero" biography. Possibly there are readers out there who are disappointed he didn't do just that. I thought he maintained the balance between the intellectual and the emotional quite admirably. His analysis of a short story fragment Turing wrote towards the end of his life is, as one would expect, full of insight.Turing died by biting into a cyanide-poisoned apple, suicide being the generally accepted explanation, though his family steadfastly maintained it was an accident. Leavitt is quite scientific in presenting all the evidence for the two theories.This book is part of a series, "Great Discoveries", and I suspect it had an upper word limit imposed by the publisher. That may in fact have been to its advantage. Turing was not a man who would be easily understood even with thousands of pages of description and analysis - but I came away from this feeling I had at least gained some sense of the man.

  • Devero
    2019-02-15 16:29

    Una gran biografia, molto scorrevole. Del resto Leavitt è per lo più un romanziere, ma qui si basa su fonti ben precise e non romanza nulla anche quando potrebbe. Buona parte del libro tiene conto dello stato della "filosofia" e della "matematica" dell'epoca, essenziale per comprendere quanto fosse rivoluzionario l'approccio di Turing alla risoluzione di problemi. Nonostante questo Leavitt riesce a esplicare bene quanto fosse frustrato il geniale Alan dall'ipocrisia della società inglese, e le difficoltà che incontrò verso la fine della vita. Difficoltà che, se non fosse stato così restio a rendere pubblico il suo contributo alla Guerra, sarebbero state di certo minori.Attenzione, il cap. 3 è decisamente impegnativo se lo volete capire, perché riprende per filo e per segno l'articolo forse più importante scritto da Alan.

  • Alicja
    2019-02-13 16:30

    rating: 4/5This is a biography of Alan Turing, the man who was critical in decoding and building the computer (and the theoretical basis of the computer) used to decode the German Enigma machine and who pioneered AI theory. The tragic end of his life had me in tears at the injustice, a life and a genius lost (and a loss to society). His end was also poetic, (view spoiler)[suicide by a poisoned apple (hide spoiler)]. The book is a bit dry, especially during the difficult math parts, but it is necessary to be able to get into Turing's head and understand the way he thought. I didn't get more than half the math, I tried. Despite the challenge, we end up exploring the mind of an extraordinary man and genius. The author did a great job and breaking down the influences in his early life and the way they effected his personality, psychology, and work. And of course we end with a tragedy, we end with his arrest for the crime of homosexuality, his subsequent emotional turmoil, depression and early death.-----------------------3/8/14: Recently, January 2014, the Queen issued an official pardon for Turning ( Great for its symbolic value but over 60 years too late to actually make a difference in his life.

  • Melissa
    2019-02-13 18:28

    Excellent book! Some parts might be challenging if you don't have a working knowledge of imaginary numbers, math proofs and theoretical math. But if you don't understand that part just skim it and get back to the story. Don't let it stop you from enjoying the book. Must read!

  • Maurizio Codogno
    2019-02-05 16:09

    Questa biografia di Alan Turing ha un unico pregio: convincere il lettore a comprarsi quella scritta da Andrew Hodges, . Turing era omosessuale, e la sua omosessualità è stata la causa del suo suicidio, quindi è chiaro che essa è un tema fondamentale. Ma questo non dovrebbe significare leggere tutta la vita del matematico inglese in chiave omosessuale, a meno che uno non voglia farsi ridere dietro scrivendo ad esempio che "la strategia attuata da Turing di aprire il suo lavoro riassumendo tutte le rivendicazioni degli oppositori prefigura i manifesti per i diritti dei gay degli anni Cinquanta e Sessanta" (pag.189; ma avrei potuto scegliere tanti altri esempi). Aggiungete che Leavitt, a differenza di Hodges, non è un matematico e quindi non riesce a spiegare chiaramente l'Entscheidungproblem oltre a prendersi qualche topica sulla zeta di Riemann, e rincarate la dose con i danni di traduzione ed editing che riescono a scrivere la lista dei numeri naturali invece che quelli primi e a non accorgersi che se stai parlando di cifratura di una frase in inglese non puoi tradurla lasciando identica la frase cifrata, sennò l'esempio non ha alcun senso; come potete capire il risultato finale è che dalla lettura di questo libro non guadagnerete nulla.

  • Holly
    2019-01-28 16:18

    Familiar with and generally admiring of David Leavitt's fiction I was impressed by his attempt to tell this story. Lest I sound equivocal [pun?], I'll say I would have enjoyed this book more by reading it on the page/e-ink screen than by listening to the audiobook as I did - though that's no fault of the reader, Paul Michael Garcia. But every number of every binary string was read: one one one one one one one one zero ellipses (yes, even the word "ellipses" was voiced) and I repeatedly "zoned" out and lost the context. I'm not innumerate, but I was busy this week, and I am a visual thinker, and that was too much to absorb. I loved George Dyson's Turing's Cathedral and listened to the audiobook in unceasing fascination; I took a lot of enjoyment from Brian Christian's The Most Human Human; say the words "Bletchley Park" or "Enigma" and you have my immediate attention. So perhaps it was the equations and also something restrained in Leavitt's handling of the material that kept causing me to lose the thread. I do think this was fine examination of Turing's life, mathematics, milieu, and tragic death (it might have been accidental suicide? Apple denies that their logo is inspired by Turing?). Note: need to read Andrew Hodges on Turing.

  • Matt Dean
    2019-02-08 19:35

    I read this in order to lead a book group discussion. The book provided fodder for a long and interesting discussion. (We went overtime by half an hour or so.) It's worth noting, though, that the book doesn't have quite the emphasis that I was expecting. Many, many, many more pages are spent on the mathematics than on the man. A lengthy explanation of the operation of a series of hypothetical Turing machines runs to 30 pages. On the other hand, it was a shock to learn that Turing was briefly engaged to be married, and even more of a shock that his fiancee was "unfazed" when he revealed that he was gay—and yet all of that happened in a single sentence.The Man Who Knew Too Much is part of a series (Great Discoveries). As an admirer of Leavitt's other work—including The Indian Clerk an excellent novel based on the life of another mathematician and contemporary of Turing's, G.H. Hardy—I have to assume he was somewhat constrained by his charter. That is to say, he was compelled to favor Turing's work over his life. Leavitt does a fine job of it, but I'm no math geek, and I would have preferred that the emphasis be reversed.

  • Peter Mcloughlin
    2019-01-22 19:18

    Turing is a tragic figure who has always fascinated me both the father of the computer and indispensable in cracking the Enigma code of the Germans in World War II. He was brought down by his openly gay lifestyle and his obliviousness to danger of his out behavior in 1950s Britain where such behavior was illegal and thought to be a "security risk". He was arrested and forced to go through humiliating hormone treatments and publicly maligned. No one from the security service stepped forward to defend him even though his secret work probably saved Britain during the war. He committed suicide in 1953. His story and his ideas have always interested me and although Hodges in "Alan Turing: The Enigma" does a more thorough job this is a good introductory work to life and thought of Alan Turing.

  • Nancy
    2019-02-20 17:23

    This book is uneven. 2.5 stars rounded to 3 because of a few good parts.The first half of the book seems padded. Leavitt spends way too much time describing other homosexual scholars at Cambridge with whom Turning had no interactions. It seemed bizarre to write about men Turing might have met if only he had been less shy. A section of Turing's WWII work to break the code of the German's Enigma machines is interesting and written in a way that a lay person feels like she almost understands how the machines work. Leavitt's descriptions of Turning's work and philosophy writings after WWII are less compelling but at least they are about Alan Turing.

  • Liz
    2019-01-21 14:30

    I'm a huge fan of Alan Turing's. A FAN. And god, if he isn't completely tragic.I liked this biography especially because the author sat down and worked out some of the math, and spent time explaining decoding. But really, the important part was that they didn't gloss over the fact that--shock--Turing was gay. Even for someone that likes to read nonfiction anyway, I was REALLY into this book. Only reason it took so long to get to it was school (since I bought this in the summer). Great biography. Really.

  • Chelle Costello
    2019-01-22 11:35

    This book deals more with Turing's ideas than his tragic life, which is fitting, I think. He would have wanted that. It was good- the first half was extremely difficult to understand, being mathematical concepts and all, but it also blew my mind. It helped me to understand just how genius this man was. It opened doors to my teaching, too- I now incorporate the Liar's Paradox into my English classes. I do wish there had been a bit more about his tragedy, but I suppose that's what Benedict Cumberbatch is for.

  • Seth Kramer
    2019-02-07 13:32

    As a gay computer scientist and mathematician I have to agree with several reviewers. I feel the author has overemphasized Turing's homosexuality. Lots of conjecture about his feelings that is unsupported by any documentary evidence. Also there is a while chapter or two devoted to the minutiae of the original Turing "machine" that really offers little insight into his life and is quite dull. The book as a whole is an interesting read, but there are better Turing biographies.

  • Stanislavskij
    2019-02-10 18:12

    Quite informative to someone uninitiated in the details of Turing's contibution to computers, the deciphering of the enigma-machine and the development of artificial intelligence. Leavitt draws some ridiculous conclusions at times, though, even suggesting at one point that Turing wanted to build an intelligent machine because he could never find "true homosexual love."

  • Daniel
    2019-02-14 13:14

    A fascinating guy, but perhaps too complex for any biography to allow you to have a sense of who he really was. I was also hoping for a better idea of how a theoretical machine became a real computer, but I'm blaming that on myself.

  • Tracy
    2019-01-28 14:09

    This was a really interesting book, however, listening to mathematical computations and numbers written in binary is not the most interesting thing in the world. In fact, it was quite tedious at times. I did enjoy learning more about Turing, so I guess the bit of boredom was worth it.

  • Margaret
    2019-02-01 13:35

    A fascinating story of a fascinating life. This is the second book I've read about Alan Turing and both taught me much about this extraordinary man. I only wish I could understand the mathematics better!

  • Bill
    2019-01-25 15:26

    Full of scientific equations and formulas, and much less information on Turing's life, disappointing for what was supposed to be a biography. I hope the author sticks to writing fictional works, most of those I've read by him I enjoyed very much.

  • Ollie Ford
    2019-02-14 19:23

    An interesting account, though does contradict itself in places. Could definitely be longer - becomes far less detailed as it progresses.

  • Jamie Collins
    2019-02-09 13:19


  • Jina
    2019-01-28 15:07

    While I did find this book interesting, it was full of details that only someone truly obsessed with the life of Alan Turing would care about. I think this was due in part to the fact that (admitted by the author) there really isn’t much available on his life, so David over explained things or provided too much side story when the opportunity presented itself in an effort to lengthen his piece. For example, a transcript was kept of a philosophy class Turing took, so David provided pages of dialog between Turing and his professor. David also went to great lengths to explain the history of the Principia Mathematica and the Entscheidungsproblem, to the point I forgot what it even had to do with Turing. David even spends much of first chapter linking Turing's homosexuality to seemingly all of his early life choices. I, myself, don’t recall my sexual preferences having that much influence over my childhood and therefor found these suggested connections, more often then not, a bit reaching. The structure of the chapters also confused me at first as they are split into multiple sections, without any real indication as to why - I think it’s just how David decided to slightly change the topic or mark the telling of a new tale that fell under the larger umbrella title of the chapter. In conclusion, I didn’t really feel that Alan Turing played that huge of a part in the invention of the computer. Artificial Intelligence, however, most definitely. He had lots of ideas and published a lot of thought provoking, bold papers that influenced other scientists, but he never actually made something himself. He always left projects unfinished. He was a brilliant mathematician and played a vital role in aiding the British during World War II, but the title implies (as does the author) that Turing played a major role in the -invention- of the computer and I can’t say that I agree - especially after reading Computing: A Concise History.

  • Dionysia
    2019-02-11 15:35

    I quite liked the detour he takes to talk about Alonzo Church. Made the book even better for me. i listened to the audio version, so a bit difficult to follow the math without visuals. I guess you can write it down as you listen. I bookmarked the math parts and ordered the actual book so i can follow up.

  • Connor
    2019-02-20 17:07

    I really enjoyed the movie: The Imitation game, which covered the same man as in this book, Alan Turing. He was the man who created the computer, and the story of how he used that to practically win a world war. To break the unbreakable Nazi code. This spy-esc suspense and secret war story vibe the book gives is amazing. Really enjoyed this

  • Michael
    2019-02-01 16:15

    This was a very strange book: as I read, I wondered who was its desired audience? So much of it is about advanced mathematical theory that I was very bogged down in that part. There was way too much of that and way too little about Turing. I would not recommend this book, unless you're REALLY into advanced mathematical theory.